Last week on “I wish I had known” I revealed the game-changer that transformed my approach to networking. Today I uncover the next step in the process of developing a solid network, and discuss another mental roadblock that stood in my way.
Last week I revealed the primary factor that helped me get started building my professional network: my own mindset. Once I began looking at the often intimidating task of “networking” as something that even I – an introvert who prefers one-on-one conversations and deeper connections – could do, it changed a lot about this endeavor.
But it wasn’t the end of the road. Believing that I could do it was (obviously) only the beginning.
I approached building a network as I do most things. Strategically, but with a lot of competing thoughts.
As with anything, when building a network you have to start where you are. Defining your current status is key.
For goals related to increasing connections, the first thing I recommend is to take an inventory of the people you already know. Through school, church, community activities and hobbies, you probably already have quite a list of people who are at least generally familiar with you and what you do.
Start by making a list of all your current connections. For purposes of this exercise, the relationship doesn’t have to be deep or particularly long-lasting. As a standard for who to include in your list, I suggest asking yourself whether you could send the person an email or call them and have them either instantly recognize your name or need just a quick reminder of how you originally connected. If you can sum up in a sentence or two how you are connected, the person should be on the list.
So the issue I ran into when working on this task wasn’t leaving off the people that were a bit of a stretch to add to my list of connections – it was the people who were closer friends and acquaintances that I sometimes talked myself out of putting on my list. I realized that I was self-limiting the people on my “network list.” (As an aside, can we agree to call this a “connectivity list?” Because I know people sometimes get intimidated by the word “network,” and also, for reasons I will expand upon below, I don’t want you to look at this as a list of everyone who is going to help you, but more of a list of your connecting potential.)
So, when I made my own list, there were some connections that I just couldn’t write down. I didn’t want to “take advantage” of relationships that I viewed as “better” or “more” than a professional connection. This mindset really stemmed from my past view of networking – the belief that networking had to be a schmoozy, “what’s in it for me” game. The belief that networking was all about taking advantage of people.
Given that belief, I just didn’t want to put my “good” relationships in my “network” box – because I feared it would turn the whole connection fake.
If you’ve been following along, you know that I eventually learned to approach networking in my own way. I figured out that it didn’t have to be fake and contrived. In fact, the genuine connections that I crave are the gold standard relationships for networking purposes as well.
If this had been my approach all along, I think I would have enjoyed networking from the start, and probably would have seen results sooner.
My challenge to you today is to spend some time defining where you are in your networking journey by getting your list of connections all in one place. And if you find yourself tempted to leave someone off of your list because they’re too good a friend or you feel your relationship would be tainted, I want you to challenge this thinking. For purposes of this exercise, you are not just making a list of all the people who you’re planning to call upon to help you get ahead in your career. So don’t limit your list just because you wouldn’t expect your neighbor in a different industry to be able to help you, or because you wouldn’t feel comfortable asking your new friends from your kids’ school for a professional favor.
Rather than believing that you are putting together a list of people that can help you, approach this exercise with the goal of making a list of people who you want to understand on a professional level, and who you hope will have an interest in understanding what you do as well. Right now you’re not making a list of potential referral sources or people who are going to be able to help you get your next job. You’re just making a list of your connections. All of them.
Who would you be interested in having coffee with and learning more about what they do or chatting about the joys and challenges of their profession? All of those people should be on your list.
Now get listing.
Stay tuned – next week I’ll tell you what to do with your all-inclusive connectivity list.